Ina Cariño

BIRTHSTONE

on days when I feel more like a woman
                    than a man, I remember that my mother
                                        keeps a brown nub buried in her jewelry box,

under strings of pearl & heaps
                    of mountain silver. little heart, wrinkled—
                                        remains of my umbilical cord, tucked

in a small leather coin purse—nestled
                    in folds of rice paper, dotted with spots
                                        of its oil. this once-conduit: dermis crusted—

the death of flesh, exemplified. as a child,
                    I begged to see it, balked at the funk, prodded it
                                        with the pillow of my fingertip, gentle.

when I asked her why she preserved it,
                    like a prune, she just laughed & said something
                                        about keeping me close until she dies.

you’ll understand, when you’re a mother.
                    now, I am of childbearing age. mornings,
                                        I stare at my handsome face in the mirror

as I check for lumps in my breasts. on such days,
                    when I feel more like a man than a woman,
                                        I wince at the thought of being a mother.

& on days when I don’t feel like a woman
                    or a man, I think about the brown nub that,
                                        for a time, connected me to my own—

imagine how it might now crumble, after years
                    buried in her jewelry box. maybe tomorrow
                                        I will call her, ask about the little heart.

(First published in Waxwing, Issue XX, Spring 2020)


carinoIna Cariño holds an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University. Their poetry appears in Apogee, Wildness, Waxwing, New England Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Ina is a Kundiman fellow, a Best of the Net finalist, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a recipient of a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. They are the winner of the 2021 Alice James Award for their manuscript Feast, forthcoming from Alice James Books in March 2023.

In December of 2019, Ina founded a reading series, Indigena Collective, centering marginalized creatives in the community.

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